Careers rarely develop the way we plan them. Our career path often takes many twists and turns, with particular events, choices and people influencing our direction.

We asked Elaine MacDonald from St. Michael's House to give some advice for people considering this job:

Elaine MacDonald

Psychologist - Clinical

St. Michael's House

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Elaine MacDonald

Make sure you are willing to go the full distance in terms of the time needed to train as a Clinical Psychologist – it’s typically at least six years academic study, and invariably this period is interspersed with work in a relevant field.

Do be as confident as you can that you’re happy being a “listener” and “observer”, as you will spend significant amounts of time in your work life as a Clinical Psychologist being in this role, as well as being in the “do-er” role and being in the limelight.

To have a good ‘fit’ with this career you’ll need to be happy working with people – as individuals on a one to one basis, with groups (e.g. families), and as part of a team in the workplace.

You need to have a good attention to detail as the job needs good observation skills, record keeping, and organisation skills.

Be prepared for learning and self-development to be on-going for the whole of your career because, as a Clinical Psychologist, you’ll be learning and using techniques and intervention approaches that are being constantly developed, and be working in accordance with policies and laws that are also constantly evolving.

The last piece of advice I’d give to someone considering this job is to be as sure as you can that you feel comfortable and even excited at the prospect of your career revolving around people and groups with all the varied, diverse, and unpredictable rewards and challenges that this brings!

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Realists like to find practical solutions to problems using tools, technology and skilled work. Realists usually prefer to be active in their work environment, often do most of their work alone, and enjoy taking decisive action with a minimum amount of discussion and paperwork.
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From 200 points to Occupational Therapy

Colm Johnson is a shining example of why high CAO points shouldn’t put students off pursuing their dream career, writes Mary Phelan.

Colm Johnson from Gurteen in Sligo did his Leaving Certificate in 2007. While he considered occupational therapy at the time, his first choice on the CAO was a Level 8 degree in physiotherapy.

Colm got 200 points in his Leaving Cert, therefore not getting near the required points for physio. His first Level 7 choice was Health Science and Physiology at IT Sligo, but he didn’t get the points for that either. Yet Colm wasn’t disappointed with his results.

“I was happy to pass. I knew I wouldn’t get a great Leaving Cert because I was only doing two honours subjects.”

But a small matter like CAO points wasn’t going to stand between him and his desired career. “I tried to find back doors, which I did through the Cavan Institute,” explains Colm. “The careers counsellor at school was a great help.”

And so Colm took a place on a sports therapy course (now known as physiotherapy assistant) and gradually his interests broadened beyond physio. “Over time, my dreams kind of shifted due to the jobs market. I thought there would be too many physios around. I’m from a village of 1,000 people and already there are five or six physios there. I said I’d give occupational therapy a go. My mother was availing of the services of an occupational therapist and that’s what made me want to go into healthcare originally.” Colm says he found the sports therapy course very helpful, especially what he learned about anatomy and physiology. This knowledge came across in an interview he did with Canterbury Christ Church University, located in southeast England, and secured him a place on the three-year Level 8 Interprofessional Learning in Occupational Therapy degree.

“My course was a professional learning course,” explains Colm, “which meant I was in a group with other health professionals, learning with and from them.” Colm settled very well into Canterbury Christ Church. The fact that there were nursing students from Cavan Institute there (as that course also has a link with Canterbury Christ Church also helped. That the course wasn’t full of young academics was also a positive.

“Over here there are only two to three mature students in a class, but in Canterbury the majority of the class was mature students. They wanted people with life experience for the course. I had a friend in my class who didn’t even have GCSEs. “The universities in England give you leeway. They base acceptance to the course on the interview and personal statement. Life experience is very important.”

Colm may have gone the long way around to get his qualification, but this route was only a year longer than if he had completed occupational therapy in Ireland, as the degree here is four years, compared with Canterbury Christ Church’s three. “It was only an extra year in education. It was definitely worth it. I’d go through all of it again. Cavan gave me the opportunity to progress.”

The course in Cavan lasted two years and Colm says it wasn’t easy. He attributes the difficulty to the fact that the programme was comprised of Level 6 ITEC modules, which have a 60% pass rate and more demanding assessment. He finished his degree in June and he is now officially a professionally registered occupational therapist and is looking for a job in Ireland or the UK.

What’s Colm’s advice for this year’s crop of Leaving Certs?

“The most important thing is to get a background on the career and what it entails – go and organise some shadowing. Ask them questions. What does it take to do that career? What qualities do you need?

“Another good idea is to get a carer or healthcare assistant job. A lot of people go in and don’t like it and drop out. I was surprised by that, because they were chosen specifically for that course.” CL

Article by: Mary Phelan IFJ